Rack’em up with Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna

Exclusive OnePocket.org Interview

Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna, Chicago’s grizzled sage of One Pocket and Bank Pool, recently agreed to be interviewed by OnePocket.org.  A long-time action veteran, Freddy’s keen insight into the game, as well as his knack for story-telling, has made him one of Accu-Stats Video’s most popular guest commentators. He recently published his first book, entitled Banking with the Beard, and is working on a second.

OnePocket.org: Freddy, where did you come up playing pool?
Freddy Bentivegna: I came up in Chicago, in a real beat up bowling alley that had five pool tables. What happened was, bowling was big, but you had to wait for lanes; you had to sign up and wait. So we’re on the waiting list – I was about 14 – and one of the guys says, ‘Listen, there’s a poolroom next door; why don’t we shoot pool while we’re waiting for our lanes?’ So we went next door. Well, we never returned. That’s true; they called our name, but we never went back, and we never bowled again.

OnePocket.org: So that was a neighborhood place?
Freddy Bentivegna: The equipment was hideous. There was no pocket at a couple of the pockets – there was just a hole.

OnePocket.org: The ball dropped right to the floor?
Freddy Bentivegna: They had those high ashtrays, and they’d put them under the pocket and the ball would go plunk and roll around in there. The cloth was all taped up with two-inch wide tape; it was pretty tough to play on. That’s where I beat my first guy from Bensinger’s.

When I first started going up to Bensinger’s I never won; I’d just try to last. I would try a new guy each time, and each guy would beat me. I kept thinking, man, they’ve got to run out of guys that can beat me pretty soon, but they never did.

So finally I got a couple of them to take a ride out to my poolroom, Nap’s poolroom on 26th street in Chicago. I said, ‘I’ll play you over there.’ Anyway, I had such an advantage over there it was ridiculous. I first played Mexican Johnny. There were tracks on the banks; you just shoot the ball into that track and it would go right down the tape into the pocket. So Johnny quit; I beat him and he quit. We were only playing for – who knows – three or four dollars a game. Then I played this other guy, Gus, another hustler, and I broke him. He stayed for the whole show and he had taken the bus down and wanted me to give him a quarter to take the bus back to Bensinger’s, but I let him walk, the son-of-a-bitch; that’s what they did to me. I’d have to walk from downtown because I didn’t have sense enough to ask for bus fare; I was too proud. They’d break me and I’d lose every quarter; I’d make sure I had nothing when I left.

OnePocket.org: So you started down there at Nap’s, but then you’d foray up to Bensinger’s, but the competition was brutal at Bensinger’s.
Freddy Bentivegna: Well, Bensinger’s at that time had some really good players there. There was ‘Pony’ [Isadore][/Isadore] Rosen; ‘Pony’ was a really good player. Everybody that came through town had to go through ‘Pony’, but he’d only play for five or ten a game, but there’d be three hundred bet on the outside; he couldn’t play for over a fin.

Photo courtesy Fred Bentivegna

OnePocket.org: I’ve heard of him, so he was a One Pocket player, too?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, he played all games good; but there were a jillion tough players up there. There was Joe Sebastion, from NY; he could run a million balls. There were a lot of players there. I didn’t really go up there and hang out until after I got out of the army. I was twenty years old when I got out of the service; I did three years. I started hanging out up there ‘cuz there wasn’t nothing as exciting as playing at Bensinger’s!

I used to have to sneak in when I played before because I was underage. They had a real high counter by the door. So I used to duck by the old guy who worked the counter — who was about a hundred years old – and sneak off into the back. When I was in the back, about fifty feet away, I’d say ‘Turn the lights on,’ and he didn’t know who the hell it was. The balls were already there, and he’d turn the light on and I got in action.

It was exciting; I mean I used to tremble when I got up there. And I didn’t care about winning; I just wanted to last as long as I could around those guys.

OnePocket.org: That was one of the great poolrooms, along with like Ames in NY…
Freddy Bentivegna: Well, Bensinger’s was the original poolroom modeled in the book, The Hustler. Then they moved to the North Side. They actually considered shooting the movie The Hustler there. But what happened was, the ceilings were too low at the new Bensinger’s on Clark and Diversey; that’s why they decided to go to NY and shoot it at Ames. Bensinger’s was first considered because the name of the place in the book was Bennington’s, but he was writing about Bensinger’s.

OnePocket.org: You mean the place that he described in the book, Tevis basically got from Bensinger’s?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah. It was a great place.

OnePocket.org: So you’re talking about the original location.
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, the original room on Randolph Street. A lot of people don’t realize that pool was so big in Chicago that Bensinger used to have nine poolrooms in the Loop.

OnePocket.org: Wow.
Freddy Bentivegna: He had nine, but there were fifty rooms in the Loop with thirty or more tables!

OnePocket.org: That was in the twenties and thirties?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah. That’s how big pool was. Bensinger had nine rooms himself in the loop. Then they just all started fading away.

OnePocket.org: So they started out as an upscale room, but by the time you came in they were getting kind of worn and they were the action room.
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, but it was still a gentlemen’s room. A lot of business guys would come in there and play billiards in a suit and tie; it was a no-nonsense room. Matter of fact, I would really love to create another room just like that, with that gentlemen’s club atmosphere – that’s what it was. Then they moved to the North Side and they started to lose that image, and it got worse. Then Bensinger died; then Artie bought it. When Artie ran it, it was a good action room. Then Bob Siegel bought it, and he ran it right into the toilet. He was a complete moron. He let people come in and take over – gang guys, druggies, pimps – a hideous crew. They had big rats that took over the joint at night. After 1 o’clock the rats owned the room, and you couldn’t go into certain areas.

OnePocket.org: I remember reading somewhere – maybe Winning One Pocket – about a rat dropping off a pipe or something.
Freddy Bentivegna: That was my story! A rat slipped off the pipe onto the table and knocked the balls around; it was brutal. Still it was a good gambling room, because Artie [Bodendorfer][/Bodendorfer] hung out there. Then it got kind of a bad reputation; guys would say, ‘Don’t go there ‘cuz you can’t get out with the money.’ And a lot of tough guys did hang out there; the O’Sheas – the fighting brothers – hung out there. But not getting out with the money had nothing to do with getting stuck up; it had to do with nobody could win! We broke everybody who came through the door; that was the real ‘can’t get out with the money.’ They couldn’t get past me or Artie, I’ll tell you that!

OnePocket.org: I didn’t realize that Artie actually owned the room for a while…
Freddy Bentivegna: Oh, yeah, it was the greatest show you’ve ever seen. He ran the counter; he worked about twelve hours a day behind the counter, and he played the whole time. He’d play pool; he’d run back and hand out the balls; go back and shoot; ring up a sale; go back and shoot; answer the phone, and then play after hours!

OnePocket.org: Wow.
Freddy Bentivegna: Of course he was a kid then. He’d never wash; his t-shirt used to get brown. He was just always in action; he didn’t have time to do anything. I don’t know if he ever slept more than two or three hours a night. Yet he never lost. How about that; brand new room; hustled all day, and played every game except Snooker; played Three Cushion, One Pocket, 8-Ball; running back and forth to the counter. He played every son-of-a-bitch who came in there. Then after one o-clock he’d close the door and play guys like Cardone [Billy incardona=””][/Billy] and Bugs and whoever and beat every human. For a guy that played tough action he had the greatest batting average in the history of pool; that’s all I can tell you.

OnePocket.org: Whoever came in; it didn’t matter who came in?
Freddy Bentivegna: We’re talking about guys like Steve Cook, Jersey Red, Sonny Springer; a million guys would come in – Cannonball Lefty, Bugs, Marvin Henderson, Joe Procita was there; Boston Shorty hung out there for a long time. Him and Artie played a five day match – they played five ahead and it took five days. They played so many hours a day, and Artie beat Shorty. This was when Shorty was Shorty, if you know what I mean.

OnePocket.org: That would have been in the late 60’s or 70’s?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah. See, Shorty hung out there for a long time. He played billiards too.

OnePocket.org: He was a real good billiards player.
Freddy Bentivegna: He was just ridiculous, okay. Nobody could beat him playing billiards around there. His oil was just… Nobody could beat Artie playing One Pocket in that joint. After a while he couldn’t get people to come in!

OnePocket.org: So three cushion helped the One Pocket of both those guys?
Freddy Bentivegna: Artie played pretty good three cushion. He never lost playing three cushion either; if he played, he’d win, if you know what I mean. If somebody spotted him, he’d beat ‘em.

Dallas West used to come around once and a while and his batting average with Artie was 0-for. Playing straight pool, Artie put him on a 5×10 with flat Snooker rails and 4 inch pockets; it was impossible to run twenty balls on that table! I mean, he made sure he took care of himself – don’t worry – he never gave a guy an even enough shake where the guy could unleash his arsenal.

The two of them [Artie &=”” ronnie=”” allen=””][/Artie] were going to play one time – up in Wisconsin – and they spent two hours in negotiations. Over what table, how much to bet, what are the rules, and they finally got stymied on what cue ball! Now Artie’s with a friend of mine who’s a lunatic who just won about fifty thousand at the track, and he loved Artie and he wanted to see the game. He’s the kind of guy that will blow like ten thousand just to see the game; he don’t care, okay? Now he wants Artie to play; he wants to see that game. I mean, what a game, Ronnie and Artie, playing even! But Artie wouldn’t play; he wouldn’t concede these things that Ronnie wanted. And my friend is threatening Artie; he put the gun on Artie and said, ‘I don’t care if ya lose, but if ya don’t play I’m going to kill ya.’ But Artie said no, no, no. My friend was a lunatic; he was screaming and cursing, ‘Just play; I don’t care about the money.’ And he didn’t care about the money; he just wanted to see this game. But on the threat of death, Artie would not make a game that he didn’t like.

OnePocket.org: So he’d pick the table depending on the player.
Freddy Bentivegna: Well he’d make sure that things didn’t go too much your way; so you were always uncomfortable. If you wanted to bet twenty; you had to bet forty of fifty. If you wanted to bet fifty; you had to bet two hundred. If you wanted to play three out of five; you had to play six out of eleven. Whatever it was you wanted; he’d want something different. Him and Ronnie Allen were like the greatest managers in the world. They call it managing before the game, and usually the game is over before it even starts.

OnePocket.org: So he had to feel like he won some kind of little edge in the match-up or he wouldn’t play.
Freddy Bentivegna: It came down to he wouldn’t let Ronnie put his own cue ball in. And Ronnie, by the same token, wouldn’t play without his own cue ball! Everybody wanted to see the game; I was there and I wanted to see the game.

OnePocket.org: But it didn’t happen because neither one of them could come out with that one little tiny edge in the making of the game.
Freddy Bentivegna: That’s right. It was an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

OnePocket.org: That’s pretty funny; so those two never played…
Freddy Bentivegna: No, they never did play.

OnePocket.org: It sounds like Artie was another guy that even though he was young, he was a real strong One Pocket player early on.
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, he learned the game right away. He used to play with ‘Pony’ every day, and finally ‘Pony’ had no chance with him. He was just a real good player.

Photo courtesy Fred Bentivegna

The only guy that beat him pretty good was Nick Varner. Nick beat him fifteen games of One Pocket for fifty a game when he first got to town. But I know how Nick plays and I knew Nick couldn’t beat Artie playing One Pocket, but I didn’t see that part of it, so I was dying to get Artie to play him so more. I had played with Nick; I knew he couldn’t beat Artie! But what Artie did was he staked Nick; he took a piece of Nick’s action and he steered him around playing guys around Chicago. He got a ball from ‘Bugs’ and stuff like that, and Nick won a lot of money, and Artie had about 30% of the action. Then Nick went to NY with his father to play in that World’s Straight Pool championship, and Nick won it. He was playing so good he won the championship.

So now Nick comes back to Chicago because there was so much action here, and I guess he’s figuring Artie will steer him around some more, but now Nick’s burned out. Artie knows Nick isn’t going to get any more good games; he just won the World’s championship and he beat everybody his last trip up here; he’s not such a hot commodity anymore. So there’s only one thing left; the only value Nick’s got left is his own bankroll, and for Artie to play him himself. Nick thought Artie didn’t want to play him because he didn’t think he could win. He didn’t realize that Artie was such a pragmatic kind of guy, he didn’t want to play him anymore because he figured he could do better taking a piece of him. But once all that wore off, then he challenged Nick – right after he won the world’s championship.

Nick naturally had to play; he couldn’t believe that Artie wanted to play him – it kind of hurt his feelings a little bit that Artie challenged him. But I was hounding Artie to play; I told him I’d stake him to play Nick some more One Pocket. Bad luck that I wasn’t there when they started playing, but they played anyway and he killed Nick. He was beating him so bad that Nick’s father tried to get him to quit. ‘This is no good,’ he says, ‘You can’t beat the guy.’ But Nick said, ‘I can’t quit; I’m learning too much!’

OnePocket.org: That’s pretty funny
Freddy Bentivegna: So I missed out on that score. Because Artie would give you a piece, or he’d let you stake him, and the thing with him was, he loved to get staked. He had his own money but he liked to get staked and he played real good getting staked. But if he bet his own money it was worse. He’s one of the few guys that played real good getting staked, and liked to get staked, but if he played his own money he was even fifteen or twenty percent better.

OnePocket.org: Really.
Freddy Bentivegna: There was really no defense against his game; he was just an animal. And he didn’t like pool, that’s probably the reason; he really didn’t like pool. That’s why he quit and went to Vegas, you know. He just quit playing pool; it was just too much pressure on him. Pool was just a means, or he was just too scared of getting beat – I don’t know what it was – some kind of psychological trauma involved. I talked to Wimpy about that. I said, ‘Listen, Wimpy [Luther lassiter=””][/Luther], there’s a kid in Chicago that never loses.’ I told him about Artie, and Wimpy says, ‘Boy, I sure feel sorry for that kid.’ I said, ‘What?! What do you mean you feel sorry for him? You feel sorry for a guy that never loses?’ He says, ‘Yeah, do you realize the pressure that that guy must be under?’ And then I thought about it for a while. And I guess he did, because he had to go get counseling and everything after that.

It ain’t normal to never get beat. I knew them all; some of the best guys ever. Cardone had a great winning record for a while, but his average with Artie was very low, one out of ten maybe, he’d come ahead.

OnePocket.org: You’re saying Artie was to one-pocket what Lassiter was to nine ball? I guess Lassiter went through that with nine ball.
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, nobody could beat him. Of course, Lassiter ducked Harold Worst. Because he was the reigning world champion and he figured what the hell, why would I want to risk my crown. Worst wanted to play him, too. As a matter of fact, Worst invited anybody in the world that wanted to play and Weenie Beenie was trying to get Wimpy to go play Worst, saying ‘This guy wants to play nine ball for five and ten thousand dollars; let’s go.’ But Wimpy said ‘No, I got these exhibitions. I have the exhibitions and the posters and world championship.’ He didn’t want to risk it. Plus, he already knew that Worst had beat his guy, Don Willis. That was Wimpy’s road partner. So, Wimpy knew that Worst had executed one of the all time nine ball monsters, unknown monster Don Willis, who had a batting average at nine ball about near Artie’s at One Pocket. It’s not so much that Wimpy was afraid of Worst, he’s just thinking, ‘what the hell, why should I? I could win a few thousand but if he beats me I lose all this notoriety and these exhibitions.’

Without the beard
Photo courtesy Fred Bentivegna

OnePocket.org: Could you tell us a little more about Harold Worst?
Freddy Bentivegna: Worst was from Grand Rapids, Michigan. To me he was the most phenomenal human that ever breathed playing pool. Forget about anybody else. I mean, I played with Mosconi, he ran 160 and out on me. I watched him never miss. He had more talent than anybody but Worst was the most frightening pool player. Everybody that played Worst shook. When they played Harold Worst, if you looked at their right hand, their hand was shaking like they had palsy. The guy was just so intimidating and if he had lived a couple more years… But I guess he beat everybody anyway doing everything.

OnePocket.org: He did — including three cushion, too.
Freddy Bentivegna: He was the world’s three-cushion champion! He won the world championship down in Argentina. He had to; I heard he had to get snuck out of the country after he won. They were going to kill him. He was only 21 years old when he won.

OnePocket.org: Did he pick up one-pocket at Johnston City?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah. He picked up nine-ball in Tampa. He didn’t even know the rules when they were playing! He was used to playing shoot to hit. And they were playing push out in the Tampa tournament. He walked into the Tampa tournament and nobody knew who he was and he says, ‘Listen I’m the world’s greatest nine-ball player and I want to play anybody who rolls nine balls.’ And they were like, ‘Who is this guy?’ The Squirrel’s there, Eddie Taylor, Danny Jones, Fats was there.

OnePocket.org: That was like in ’62 or something?
Freddy Bentivegna: No, it was past then. I forget when that was. Don Watson was there; I think he won it.

OnePocket.org: Oh yeah, it was an all-around [1964][/1964]
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah. Anyway, they said, ‘We’ll get somebody to play,’ and they didn’t get no short stops, even though they didn’t know who he was. They said, ‘Who’s this billiard player from Michigan?’ Who do you think they opened him up with? It was Eddie Taylor!

The only thing that bothered Worst was that he’d get snookered and wouldn’t have any shot. That was the only thing that scared him. But now they are playing push out. He asks, ‘You mean to tell me, if I get snookered I can push out and have another chance to make a ball?’ And they’re going, ‘Yeah,’ and these are the great push out guys! So he’d push out for something ridiculous and they’d say, ‘Go ahead and shoot,’ and they’d laugh and he’d whiz it in the pocket. He thought they were idiots. ‘You mean you’re going to let me shoot this?’ So he barbecued Taylor. Then they brought in Jimmy Moore; there was no stalling! And he beat Jimmy Moore. Then they brought in Danny Jones and they brought in Squirrel.

Then they started to work on him. Now these are the smartest hustlers in the world, and this guy Worst ain’t got a clue about hustling so they went to work on him. I think he gave Danny two games on the wire going to 11. Now they started to pound him. Then he gave Squirrel the break or two out of three breaks or something. They just outmaneuvered him. He was getting steered around. I hate to snitch on him but Beenie was his advisor, Weenie Beenie. So you take it from there what kind of advice Beenie was giving him; his first allegiance was to the hustlers. So they finally got to him as far as winning the money but nobody could stand up to the way he was playing.

Another thing about Worst, Worst would bet all you wanted to bet. He was like Jew Paul [Paul brusloff=””][/Paul] in Detroit. The line was open. He would bet until you were done betting. So whatever game he made, you could break him with that game, because he bet all you wanted to bet.

In Johnston City he would play anybody, any game, except banks. All the other games he played, eight-ball, nine-ball, one-pocket, straight pool, or snooker. He beat Sammy Blumenthal playing snooker! That was not in Jacksonville but Johnston City. The guy was just a freak.

OnePocket.org: Didn’t he die at like 41 or something like that?
Freddy Bentivegna: I don’t think he got to 40. The guy was a phenomenal player. The most phenomenal guy I ever saw play pool, and I’ve seen some good players. This guy would rocket the game ball. He would make the game ball look like a ham sandwich and he would hit it at 600 m.p.h. right down the middle of the pocket. He was a great player. Even the top guys ducked him. Taylor ducked him and Wimpy ducked him. That’s the true story. I hate to snitch on them guys, but they ducked him. Not that they couldn’t beat him, because anybody could win but…

Worst was real abusive, obnoxious, and very contemptuous of everybody. He’d say, ‘Doesn’t anybody want to play anything? Do any of you guys have the nerve to play anything?’ He wasn’t well liked. I remember Cornbread Red went up to Taylor and he said, ‘Bear, when are we going to take off this Dutchman and make him shut his mouth?’ And the Bear said ‘I’m going to get him Red, I’m going to get him.’ But he never did.

Then they played in a tournament; Wimpy and Worst were in the tournament and Wimpy beat Worst. He got real lucky to beat him; he got a lot of lucky rolls and Worst was steaming. So after the match was over Worst says, ‘I’ll see you in the back room, Mr. Lassiter for $200 a game, nine-ball.’ Anyway, everybody flocked to the back room because they wanted to see that game — Worst against Wimpy, $200 nine ball — but neither guy showed up.

OnePocket.org: I didn’t realize that Harold got into action quite that much.
Freddy Bentivegna: He bet all you wanted to bet. And every time he was in a game, every game he was in, he was in a trap, because these were some sharp hustlers. These are monsters he’s dealing with — road guys like Beenie and Taylor and their advisors. And every game he made he had the worst of it, every single game. I remember he was giving Babyface [Alton whitlow=””][/Alton] 130 to 100 playing straight pool, that was the game. Babyface says, ‘This is the greatest game I ever had in my life and I can’t win a game.’ Who could give Babyface 130 to 100? But Worst would do it. He just shoved through the mess, he didn’t know there was such a thing as a bad game.

He gave somebody — I think he was playing Sonny Springer – and he’s giving Sonny 8 to 6. I’m not sure if it was 8 to 6 on the break or just 8 to 6, but they were playing one-pocket, and they were playing like $200 a game and Worst was 8 games loser or something like that, getting robbed. He knows he can’t win now. Weenie Beenie says ‘Go ahead and play, Harold; it’s a good game,’ to give Sonny Springer, who’s one of the great undercover one-pocket players, ‘go ahead and give him 8 to 6.’ Of course Sonny’s robbing him, so Worst realizes he’s in a trap; that they had bagged him up. So what did he do? I don’t remember the math but I do know that he raised the bet, instead of quitting he doubled up or tripled up and ran 8 and out four games in a row and then quit. He got even and he quit. So maybe, my memory is a little weak here, he might have made it $400 a game, which is a lot of money, we’re talking 1965 or 1966. To raise it to $400 or $600 a game and he ran eight and out four games in a row on the guy who has the mortal nuts and then he quit because he knew he couldn’t win.

OnePocket.org: I’ve been impressed as I’ve done these interviews; it’s quite a combination of skills that you guys have. It’s not just the pool playing; there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on that is impressive. One thing I’ve noticed is that you guys all have quite the memories for different players and different situations; you know where you played a guy; you know when; you know what the game was; you know how they played, and you know what the money was. Then there’s the whole lemon business, and all the psychology of drawing a guy into a game, that is very interesting. I want to talk about that some more. I appreciate your time today, Fred.
Freddy Bentivegna: Remind me to give you the story of when I was a kid and I was with my first wife, but I don’t think we were married then; she was my first girlfriend. I had been with some other girl who had given me a hickey on my neck, and what do you do in that spot? Now this is a move. How do you beat that situation? This is a girl who used to be very suspicious and inspect my clothes. So I come with a move only a pool hustler could to beat that.

OnePocket.org: I want to hear it.
Freddy Bentivegna: You know Doc Herbert?

OnePocket.org: The guy that owns Chris’ now?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, Doc reminded me of that story because he was part of it. It’s a real good story and only a pool hustler would be able to do it. You have to be a guy out on the road to escape these kind of traps. How do you get out of that spot? She’s on the way to meet me in the next ten minutes and I have a hickey the size of an apple on my neck.

At the Derby City Classic 2005

OnePocket.org: Where we left off, your girlfriend is on the way and you’ve got a hickey the size of an apple…
Freddy Bentivegna: Right, and she was very suspicious; she used to inspect my body and my clothes – not very trusting. So Doc and I are in front of Bensinger’s poolroom, where I’m supposed to meet her. We came up with a scheme where Doc brings his car over to the front of the poolroom and we lift the hood. Then Doc starts the motor and says, ‘Get underneath the car like you’re fixing it. When we spot her coming, I’ll give you a kick when she’s right there.’ So as soon as she’s in range, he nudged me underneath the car and I let out a scream, and I come out cursing covered with grease and yell at Doc, ‘You dumb son-of-a-bitch, you leaked the goddamn hot oil all over me!’ And of course my neck is all red. She looked at it, all sympathetic, ‘Honey, we better get you home right now and I’ll put some salve on that for you.’

OnePocket.org: So you turned it to your advantage
Freddy Bentivegna: It’s an example of thinking on your feet at the last second.

OnePocket.org: So Freddie, you had your own room in Chicago for a while?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, North Shore Billiards. It was the second greatest action spot maybe in that whole era, next to Detroit. Nothing was like Detroit because those guys bet $15,000 or $20,000 sessions. But we were like $3,000 a game, $5,000 a game, $5,000 or $10,000 sessions on a regular basis. Everybody was hanging around there — every player. Buddy Hall, Louis Roberts, Larry Hubbard, what’s his name that’s on the TV from New Jersey, Alan Hopkins, and Nick Varner and Jack Cooney. I mean, just everybody; even Earl Strickland. Ask Earl; Earl slept on the floor. We let him sleep upstairs underneath the tables. Earl, he didn’t have a buck. And he’s big enough to talk about it. He’s not ashamed, that’s just what he went through when he first came up here before he started beating everybody. He got his start at North Shore, my joint.

OnePocket.org: He was a teenager then?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, just a kid.

OnePocket.org: But he got real strong, real early didn’t he?
Freddy Bentivegna: Right then, right from my room; he launched from there and it was 100 m.p.h. We used to see him, and he played okay. But all of a sudden, boom, he’s a monster and he started winning tournaments. Keith McCready was there. Everybody was there and they were playing all over the joint, not just on one table.

OnePocket.org: But Earl is one guy even though he hung out in your room, he never really picked up one-pocket, did he?
Freddy Bentivegna: No, he liked to play nine ball; that was it. He played a little banks on the south side but he’s not a banker either. He was there to play nine ball. Nine ball really wasn’t that big in my room though. It was mostly one-pocket or banks, and tremendous, tremendous action, 24 hours a day.

OnePocket.org: Why do you think Chicago had such a strong one-pocket tradition?
Freddy Bentivegna: Well, we had some great players, we learned from ‘Pony’ [Isadore rosen=””][/Isadore]. ‘Pony’ was our guy and then Artie had his own style and Bugs [Leonard rucker=””][/Leonard] had his own style. I had my own style kind of a mixture between Artie and Bugs.

OnePocket.org: Because you’re a real good banker too, of course.
Freddy Bentivegna: Right. Artie wasn’t; Artie couldn’t bank a lick. I used to play him eight to six. And he couldn’t even play nine ball. He couldn’t beat nobody playing nine ball. He played a little straight pool, he played pretty good straight pool. It’s hard to believe that he had that kind of speed at one pocket without that bank power. His percentages were just so good.

OnePocket.org: He controlled the cue ball real well then?
Freddy Bentivegna: Basically it’s percentages. The shots that he took were so good. After a while he would break a guy down. He just kept looking at the right thing; the guy never makes a mistake. The guy never does the wrong thing, hour after hour, day after day. And he could play for days without any drugs.

OnePocket.org: So it was his cue ball control and the fact that he just always picked the right shot?
Freddy Bentivegna: That’s right. His percentages were just unbelievable. He just knew exactly what to do.

OnePocket.org: And that’s something that he didn’t just learn he also must have invented some of that himself.
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, nobody plays like he did. First he used to play ‘Pony’ just to learn, then he told me ‘Pony’ couldn’t teach him anything anymore. Then he started robbing ‘Pony’, playing even. Finally ‘Pony’ dropped dead playing him! As a matter of fact, Artie’s probably got the record, two guys dropped dead playing him pool; that’s the kind of pressure he puts people under. He’s had two people drop dead at the table! Artie had ‘Pony’ like seven to nothing and ‘Pony’ fought back and tied it up; he needed one ball. He was shooting at the game ball and it was just too much and he just gave out and dropped dead in front of Artie. And another guy, not a famous player, did the same thing.

OnePocket.org: That’s brutal! So he’s probably one of the smartest one-pocket players you ever ran in to?
Freddy Bentivegna: Not probably; he was the smartest. There’s nobody smarter than him. Like I told you, he was no great pool player. He couldn’t beat anybody playing nine ball; couldn’t beat anybody playing bank. He was just a nice straight pool player, but he couldn’t beat any of the New York guys playing straight pool. So how did he beat you? And he didn’t cheat.

OnePocket.org: How about the black players, like Kenny Romberg?
Freddy Bentivegna: Remus was his name.

OnePocket.org: That was his nickname?
Freddy Bentivegna: No, his name was Remus, his nickname was Romberg.

OnePocket.org: Oh, I got that backwards! It seems like they had parallel pool in one-pocket and Chicago, you had the white rooms and the white players and then you had the black rooms and the black players.
Freddy Bentivegna: There was plenty of action. It used to be a guy could have fun if he wanted to play one-pocket around Chicago. One-pocket or bank. There was plenty of bankers and plenty of one-pocket players.

OnePocket.org: And that’s part of the reason why Chicago had such good one-pocket is they had all those good bank players too?
Freddy Bentivegna: Well, it’s a certain style. We’ve call it the Chicago style of one-pocket, it’s a little squeezy. California’s got a different style, because Ronnie was the main player out there. Ronnie was the power guy, with power shots and scrambling balls, but here in Chicago we just kept putting you behind balls and frozen.

OnePocket.org: Was Clem from around Chicago?
Freddy Bentivegna: Clem was from Cincinnati, Eugene Metz. Clem was maybe the safest player ever. I would have liked to have seen him and Artie play, the game may never have ended!

OnePocket.org: That’s what I hear about Clem.
Freddy Bentivegna: He’s another guy that didn’t like pool either. I’ll tell you how tough Clem was; he beat Eddie Taylor and Johnny Vives playing one-pocket. The bad thing was, as good as he played if you beat him he was liable to stick you up. Hard as it was to beat the guy, if somebody did kind of luck out, they were liable to get stuck up. He might put the gun on you; that’s how tough things were then.

OnePocket.org: He did spend some time in jail I believe.
Freddy Bentivegna: He led a motley kind of a life.

OnePocket.org: Well, there is a little of that around pool.
Freddy Bentivegna: But he was a great player; played real good safeties. But he didn’t like pool; he’d rather do anything.

OnePocket.org: I never understood that, being that talented but not liking it.
Freddy Bentivegna: He didn’t like pool to the extent; it was just a way of making money and stuff. The same thing with Artie I guess. They got away from it as soon as they could.

OnePocket.org: I would think in order to get that good, especially at one-pocket, you would have to like it to some degree.

OnePocket.org: Freddie, I wanted to ask you about your upcoming book, Banking with the Beard
Freddy Bentivegna: About 90% of the secrets that I know are in there. I’m giving them up because my son is not really that into pool; I was going to just leave it for him. He’s got this, because I’ve taught it to him, but he’s not that interested in pool, so your ego finally gets to you; you want some recognition. Everywhere I look I see people getting recognition, and half of them can’t even play!
OnePocket.org: Well there are a lot of players that can do things, but they can’t explain what they are doing, and if they try, they explain it wrong anyway!
Freddy Bentivegna: Exactly

OnePocket.org: But you are very good at explaining things, and I’m sure that comes through in the book. I notice that in the front of your book you credit Gene Skinner…
Freddy Bentivegna: Gene was a great player in the 30’s and 40’s, then he went to work at the race track and kind of got away from pool. But in his career he played everybody. He’s one of the few people to play Mosconi One Pocket, and he beat him.

OnePocket.org: Oh really, how did he lure Mosconi into One Pocket?
Freddy Bentivegna: You’re asking me to remember something he told me too long ago for me to remember. He beat Jimmy Moore playing One Pocket too. He was a great all around player; he played in those World Billiard Tournaments too.

OnePocket.org: Three cushion billiards?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yes, there were ten guys that were always one through ten at those tournaments, but he was just under those guys; just the next level.

He used to keep Fats broke; they used to play all the time. He played Marcel Camp, too. He was a great player, and bet his own money.

OnePocket.org: Was he out of Chicago?
Freddy Bentivegna: No, he was from Fullerton, California but when the race track — Arlington Park – was open he’d be here. That’s how I met him. He took me under his wing and showed me how to play One Pocket. In one week I learned so much from him that when I went down to Johnston City a week later and played in my first tournament ever, and I came in fifth. I beat some great players. I had Ronnie Allen dead-to-rights, three games to two and seven to nothing – that was for second place. I went for a bad shot, a three ball combination, it didn’t go and Ronnie got five and ended up winning that game. And it was winner breaks, and he broke real good and got three off the break and out-managed me from there. Ronnie ended up winning the tournament. But with Skinner’s stuff, I improved two balls in that week.

OnePocket.org: That was a little unusual back then to have somebody actually tell you stuff.
Freddy Bentivegna: Well the reason he did was because he had quit playing pool; he was one of the few guys that would release anything. He kind of liked me and he did it for nothing. If he was still into pool he wouldn’t have shown me anything; believe me, they just didn’t do it.

At the Derby City Classic One Pocket HOF dinner

As a matter of fact I was just out at Artie’s house in Vegas, and he’s got a pool table in his garage and he leaked a few secrets to me, for the same reason. No way on earth would he ever tell me anything back when we were playing; but we don’t compete anymore. So he drizzled off a few things. Listen, I think I’m pretty smart at pool; I’ll put my knowledge up against just about any human, especially at banks, and at One Pocket I think I’m pretty smart too, but Artie is a friggin’ genius. Now I understand it; I finally understand how he was able to beat everybody. He really had a plan.

And another thing, I’m going to put this on your web site, he issues a challenge, anybody thinks they know more One Pocket than him, who thinks they have a better understanding of One Pocket – that goes for any human – he’ll put up thirty thousand. You get a panel of five knowledgeable people to judge and each guy has an hour to display what they know, and then the panel will decide who knows more.

OnePocket.org: Boy, I tell you as a spectator that would be pretty incredible!
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, a millionaire One Pocket freak might put up the money just to learn the stuff.

OnePocket.org: Absolutely; it might be worth thirty thousand.
Freddy Bentivegna: I only got few minutes with him, and I’m not a humble kind of guy, so for him to humble me, that was really something. I wouldn’t bet against him. I showed him a few banks too. And once I showed him, he never missed them; every time they came up he made them and never gave me any credit, as if all along he knew how to make that bank.

He was a weak banker; he didn’t really have shooting power, so how did he win? It was his management of the balls.

OnePocket.org: I find it kind of interesting that he ended up making all that money in Vegas by managing the odds – just like what you are talking about at One Pocket. He had a good strong knack for recognizing an advantage in percentages.
Freddy Bentivegna: He made millions doing it, and the thing was, he didn’t like pool. The two toughest guys to play against were him and Clem and neither one of them liked pool; they got away from it as soon as they could!

I’ll give you a few of my road stories. These guys put a spread down for me to go play Archie Karas. I don’t know if you’re ever heard of him.

OnePocket.org: No.
Freddy Bentivegna: Archie the Greek, from Las Vegas. He’s the highest rolling man of all time. You’ve heard of Nick the Greek?

OnePocket.org: Yeah.
Freddy Bentivegna: Well, Nick the Greek is like a nit. Nobody has ever gambled in the history of the world like Archie Karas. There’s an article in Cigar Magazine about him. He was like $50,000,000 winner at the Horseshoe Casino. He played the owner of the Mirage Casino pool on his nerve, won about a million and then beat him playing poker. Then he went on to win $50,000,000 playing dice. He had all the $5,000 chips. They had to print a new chip for him, a $25,000 chip. I’ve got the article in Cigar Magazine. Anyway, nobody gambled like this guy. He even broke all the no limit poker players. They couldn’t play with him. He’s got no use for money. He was dead broke and now he’s got $50,000,000.

So now he’s on the way down, he lost a lot of the money back, he had a few million left, three, four, five million left, so these guys trapped him. They told him that there’s a billionaire in Pennsylvania, an industrialist that likes to play pool and gambles real high — which there is such a guy; Archie had been hearing about this guy for years. Audie Weiss was the guy’s name; a billionaire industrialist gambling degenerate, who can’t play at all and Archie had heard about this guy. So these guys told him they could get him a game with Audie Weiss, the only kind of guy who would gamble his fee. So they got him to go to Pennsylvania, some little town in Pennsylvania, and planted in that town is me. I’m Audie Weiss, the billionaire.

Archie knows this guy is an eccentric billionaire, he don’t dress fancy, he don’t wear no jewelry, but he’s a degenerate gambler, so they passed me off as Audie Weiss. We meet; they introduce me and so on, then we go to the poolroom; we’re going to play some eight ball. I say, ‘What do you want to play for Archie?’ We kicked it off at $40,000. Archie has in his pocket $200,000 in $5,000 and $25,000 chips from the Horseshoe and the $25,000 chips were like travelers checks. You couldn’t steal them from him because nobody would cash them. He’d have to okay to cash them in because he was the only guy who had $25,000 chips. So that’s what he had in his pocket instead of money.

So the first game we played for $40,000, a game of eight ball. He broke, didn’t make nothing and I run out. It was an easy layout. He reaches in his pocket and gives me eight $5,000 chips. I break I don’t make nothing, he runs out. Another easy layout, I give him back the $40,000. I was a little shaky. I could beat him; I was a good pool player, but we’re playing $40,000 a game and I don’t have a quarter! None of us had that kind of money. There ain’t no paying him off. What are we going to pay him with? So we wound up playing $100,000 a game one-pocket. And I’m stalling too; I have to stall! I beat him out of $100,000 the first night. He pays me off with four $25,000 chips.

OnePocket.org: You must have had a tough balancing act; stalling enough to be credible, but you couldn’t afford to lose!
Freddy Bentivegna: I was a good lemon man in those days. So we go up to the counter to pay the time, and the time is $21.00; it’s a little bowling alley, a cheap joint. I short armed him on the time. I’m $100,000 winner, but I’m an eccentric billionaire; I have to play the part through. So I’m patting my pockets and slow drawing him on the time. I’m patting, like I can’t find $21.00. He says, ‘Don’t worry about it Audie, I’ve got the time.’ I’ve got him so f**king hooked he paid the time! I said, ‘Oh, thank you Archie.’

Anyway, it was a hell of a deal. Then we stalled around because we wanted to get that money cashed. Before we played again, I’ve got to cash those chips before he finds out who I am or something. We had to have somebody fly back to Vegas, and Archie had to go back to Vegas to okay it also, so I told him that I had to go fly to Japan. Then we sent this kid back, Larry Schwartz. We had to let time elapse, that’s why I said I had to go to Japan for a big business meeting — that would get me out of the country so we couldn’t play. Because I didn’t want to play more until we got our money — the first part of it anyway.

But we got the okay and we got the money cashed and then we played again, and he lost another $100,000. But the guys with me were idiots; they weren’t experienced scufflers, real lemon hustlers. They’d set it up but they didn’t really know what to do; they didn’t know how to do this properly. It ended up, he paid $100,000, but he owed $800,000, which they never got because they weren’t true lemon pros; they were amateurs. I had him so convinced that I was Audie Weiss.

OnePocket.org: So he owed another $800,000?
Freddy Bentivegna: That’s right. When he got back to Vegas these guys screwed it up. They’re so guilty, they acted so guilty about it. You have to act like a legitimate thing occurred. I’m supposed to be Audie Weiss. Big deal, I won $200,000, so what, I lose millions. But they dogged it real bad and then he started asking around about this guy that plays one-pocket and he’s got glasses and he limps. So pretty soon, someone says, ‘I know that guy, that sounds like the man from Chicago.’ We got busted and we didn’t get the rest of the money. But it was one of the great scams; he really was hooked. He really fell for it. I laid a stall down. They were trying to get him to quit too because they didn’t want him to owe that much money. He was saying, ‘No, no, no his leg is going to give out any minute.’ He thought my leg was going to give out on me; it looked like I was suffering. I was in pain, my leg was screwed up. I was in pain, but so what, I could play for four days like that.

Freddy at Grady Mathews’ Gulf Coast Classic in 2004

OnePocket.org: So you were a pretty good actor then?
Freddy Bentivegna: Yeah, I got turned out by some good lemon men. I hung around with Bunny Rogoff. And a guy named Hollywood Jack and some guys from Chicago, some other players, real good lemon men. Jack Cooney, they were great lemon men.

OnePocket.org: Well, I’ve seen you up at Chris’ Billiards and you were slumped in the chair and it looks like you’re half asleep, yet you’re an awful sharp guy. You’ve got a look that doesn’t look that way, but man you’re an awful sharp guy.
Freddy Bentivegna: Well, if you want to get action, you’ve got to show flaws. You’ve got to show weakness. I’m knock proof. See, a lot of good players, they can’t get a game because they play too good. Now the better I played, the more action I got, because I’m knock proof. Guys might say, ‘Don’t play him, he’s too strong.’ But I’d have them hooked so good, they’d say, ‘No, don’t tell me; you’re an idiot, I’m going to keep playing him.’ I’d shoot right past the knocks! I prepared my game like that. I didn’t want to be in dead stroke without a game.

A lot of those players can’t get a game; they don’t know how to make a game. You have to present weakness, you have to let a guy find a way to want to play you or find a way that he thinks he can beat you. You have to present that to somebody. That’s the secret to hustling. You have to give that up. You can’t have the whole picture. You can’t just beat a guy and take everything away from him, and come in strong and look good. You can’t do that. You have to give him something back. If you beat him, you have to give him the crying, the moaning, that you suffered to win.

I learned that from a guy named Reno. He’d rob guys and you’d swear to God the guy he’s playing was taking his children away from him — and he’s robbing the guy! He’d cry, he’d moan, he’d throw the cue stick, he’d pull his hair while he’s winning every game, but he gave them a little something back. A lot of guys want to take everything. They want to take the whole thing. You can’t do it. You’ve got to give a little back. You’ve got to sacrifice a little pride, a little ego and let the guy leave with something.

So I always got action, when I was playing I always got action. I could get a game anywhere. Ask any of those guys, I’d come in off the tournament, I’d be playing in five minutes. But the Archie story was kind of funny. Like I said, the guys I was in with weren’t real pros. They fell for my stall, that’s how dumb they were! I’m stalling and they believe that it’s the real thing, even though I told them before, I said, ‘Don’t you fall for my acting, it’s only meant for Archie; at some point, you’re going to think this is real, but it ain’t,’ I said. The guy in with me couldn’t handle it the first day; he kept running out of the poolroom, he was too nervous to watch.

OnePocket.org: That was quite an art because you couldn’t afford to actually show anything because there was nothing to show!
Freddy Bentivegna: Oh, the cheese, no, but I had moves for that, too. What the hell, I’m a millionaire.

OnePocket.org: You were prepared for that, too?
Freddy Bentivegna: Really not that night, but we were prepared later on because then he started wondering how is he going to get paid, so we had to invent a phony checkbook. We had a checkbook with my name on it. What the hell, I’m a billionaire; can’t I owe you? You think I have it in my pocket? I knew all that, but they didn’t know that, the guys with me. They had such larceny and they were so guilty. It was obvious on their faces which was kind of bad. The performance really had to go to another level to go over.

OnePocket.org: That’s a good story, and I know you have more.
Freddy Bentivegna: I have ten million more.